Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices will be in their 80s during the first term of whoever is elected president next year, meaning he or she could usher in an enormous shift in the Court’s makeup. The Court issues enormously consequential rulings on numerous issues affecting everyone across the country – LGBT equality, money in politics, workers’ rights, religious liberty, workplace discrimination, abortion rights, and many others. With the current Court so often divided 5-4, usually tilting toward far-right conservatives, it’s clear that the Supreme Court is perhaps the most important issue in the 2016 presidential election.
You certainly don’t need to persuade conservatives. In fact, according to press reports, the far-right Judicial Crisis Network is launching a new website and ad campaign to pressure GOP presidential hopefuls ever rightward on the issue of Supreme Court nominations. A reported in The Hill, the group blasts the arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and very conservative Anthony Kennedy as insufficiently conservative.
“Demand justices with a proven record of upholding the constitution. We can’t afford more surprises,” a narrator says as the video shows the faces of Roberts, Kennedy and former Justice David Souter, who retired in 2009.
The three justices are “examples of bad GOP appointments,” the Judicial Crisis Network said in a statement announcing the advertisements.
[JCN] says it made the $200,000 television and digital ad buys ahead of the Republican presidential debates to get candidates on the record about their approach to Supreme Court picks. The next Republican debate is Wednesday.
The television and digital ads are set to run in Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. starting Monday, the group said.
Roberts and Kennedy … not conservative enough? Along with Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, they formed the five-person majority that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County), opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics (Citizens United), twisted religious liberty into a tool to deprive others of their legal rights (Hobby Lobby), and regularly misinterpret and severely undermine our nation’s anti-discrimination laws (Ledbetter, for a start). True, Justice Kennedy authored the Court’s key opinions recognizing the constitutional rights and basic humanity of LGBT people, but he is no liberal.
If conservative activists succeed in electing a conservative president who wants to drive the currently far-right Supreme Court even farther rightward, the repercussions will be enormous.
But imagine instead if Americans elect a president who wants to restore a high court that recognizes and protects our constitutional and statutory rights to liberty, equality, and democracy … Again, the repercussions for people across the entire country would be enormous.
There is one thing where we agree with the JCN. As their ad says:
On the most important issues, the Supreme Court decides. The next president could appoint a new majority to last a generation.
Keep that in mind between now and Election Day. You can be assured that conservatives will.
Last week, Jeb Bush said “Of course I would” support Donald Trump if he won the Republican nomination. Bush’s embrace of Donald Trump and, in turn, Trump’s xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia is disturbing but unsurprising. As PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager put it:
“Naturally Jeb Bush has no qualms about supporting Donald Trump. From speaking out against increases to the minimum wage to opposing a woman’s right to choose, Bush and Trump are united in pushing an extreme agenda that would be devastating to working class families. Moreover, the fact that Bush would support Donald Trump and his mass deportation policies shows that Bush’s loyalties lie only with the extreme Republican base, not immigrants or working families.”
Bush, Trump, and the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have shown time and again during the primary campaign that no idea is too extreme if it can win votes from the party’s radical base.
From ignoring the science of climate change to supporting tax plans that favor the wealthiest in our society while harming working families, on critical issues, PFAW Coordinator of Political Campaigns Carlos A. Sanchez pointed out, “Trump and his less flamboyant competitors all share virtually identical positions.” At points, Trump has even been the voice of moderation in the GOP field. As PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker wrote last month, Trump has been one of the few Republican presidential candidates to speak out against the undue influence of big money in elections.
In every primary election, candidates cater to their base. But Republicans have outdone themselves this year. Pledging to support Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee, as Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates have done, is just the latest example of how extreme Bush, Trump, and all of the leading GOP candidates are.
This piece by PFAW board member Dolores Huerta was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Despite all of the undeserved controversy and lies swirling around about Planned Parenthood, many -- but not all -- of us already know how essential the work of the organization is to our nation as a whole and the Latino community in particular: In 2013, millions of people visited Planned Parenthood for a wide variety of health services -- and 22% of those patients were Latino.
That's a high number, and it underscores how critical Planned Parenthood's work is in our community. Latinos are disproportionately uninsured and more likely to have trouble affording contraception. We're at a higher risk of death from cervical cancer and breast cancer and of contracting HIV and other STDs. Sadly, the list could go on and on. But that's exactly why the sexual and reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood provides are absolutely vital to the health and wellbeing of our community. In particular, when Latinas most need health services but have nowhere else to turn, Planned Parenthood is there.
People who oppose women's access to health care have spent years attacking Planned Parenthood with too many smears and distortions to count. But the one that truly makes my blood boil is the claim that because so many women who turn to Planned Parenthood are people of color ... Planned Parenthood must be racist! A spokesperson for the right-wing Libre Initiative just made this attack, accusing Planned Parenthood of "target[ing] minority communities" and of working to diminish the "political power" of women of color.
That's as ridiculous as it is offensive.
When we say that Planned Parenthood does extensive work in communities of color, that's because women in those communities are deciding for themselves that they need the help Planned Parenthood offers. When a woman -- especially a low-income woman -- needs or desires access to contraception, a cancer screening, and yes, even an abortion, she can go to Planned Parenthood. Having that access means she has the ability to control her own health and her own future. That is not targeting or diminishing women. Instead, it's allowing them to have the dignity of making their own medical decisions, a right that so many people in the United States take for granted but that Latinas are too often denied.
Hundreds of thousands of Latinos turn to Planned Parenthood every year, but it's not just about the numbers. I've worked all of my life with members of our community, fighting for our rights, and I've seen far too many times the harm that lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare has done to our community. That's why I've worked so hard on grassroots efforts to promote health care access among low-income families and families of color during my time leading the Dolores Huerta Foundation. There's so much more we can and should be doing right now to better the health and wellness of Latinos across the country, but one step that would only make matters much worse would be to defund Planned Parenthood.
To put it simply: Attacking Planned Parenthood for providing Latinas with reproductive health services is another way of saying that Latinas shouldn't have access to reproductive health services at all.
If some people want to attack Planned Parenthood, that's their right. But they should be honest about what they're attacking. They're attacking our access to health care, birth control and abortion. Latinas have made clear that we want and need access to those services. And that's exactly why it's so important that we stand with Planned Parenthood.
Dolores Huerta is a civil rights leader and board member of People For the American Way.
This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Ninety-five years ago today, we added an amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying that women have a right to vote in our elections. While today women's suffrage seems like a no-brainer to everyone -- except maybe Ann Coulter -- it was not an inevitability that simply fell into place. Women were not "given" the right to vote. It was an amendment that women fought for, tooth and nail, for more than 70 years in every state across the country
In a 2010 piece about the suffrage movement, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote that "behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time." It was a painstaking process of organizing, state by state, that ultimately led to the 19th Amendment.
It's not a fast process to amend the Constitution -- just ask Susan B. Anthony, who organized for decades and didn't live to see the passage of the women's suffrage amendment. It shouldn't be easy to change our country's guiding document. But we have a history of passing amendments, when necessary, to make our democracy more inclusive, and often to correct serious harm done by the Supreme Court. The women's suffrage amendment overturned a 1875 decision that held women didn't have a right to vote. In all, seven of the 17 constitutional amendments adopted since the Bill of Rights have reversed damaging Supreme Court decisions that threatened popular democracy.
Today we're facing another serious threat to our democracy: Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United.
In the wake of decisions allowing unlimited spending to influence elections, money has inundated our political system like never before. 2014 was the most expensive midterm in history, but with fewer donors than in past elections. The 2016 presidential election is already on its way toward eclipsing all previous records. We're seeing more and more money from fewer and fewer donors, and it's taking a real toll on the functioning of our system.
There is a nationwide movement pushing for a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and take our political process back from the tremendous influence of big corporations and moneyed interests. Like the women's suffrage movement, it's a slow process of building support city by city, state by state, one conversation at a time. So far 16 states and 650 cities and towns have gone on record in support of an amendment, and momentum continues to build.
The campaign for an amendment, like the Democracy For All amendment being considered in Congress, is grounded in simple ideas: we should be able to set reasonable limits on money in elections. The size of your wallet shouldn't determine the strength of your voice. Our elected officials should be paying attention to the needs and priorities of everyday Americans rather than following a political agenda set by wealthy special interests.
On Women's Equality Day we celebrate the expansion of political rights almost a century ago. It was an expansion based on the recognition that our political system is for all of us. But as the foundation of representative democracy is threatened by an overwhelming influx of money in elections -- to the point where all of us can no longer be heard in our democracy -- we are called to amend the Constitution again.
This post was written by PFAW President Michael B. Keegan and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
If you are running for office as a Republican today, you have to mention your reverence for the Constitution at least as much as you mention your love for Ronald Reagan.
The Second Amendment-- every word should be taken literally because it was literally ordained by God! The First Amendment protects my right to discriminate against gay people! Neither the Constitution nor the Bible contains the word "Obamacare"!
But Republican politicians have a few glaring blind spots when it comes to the Constitution. One of those is the 14th Amendment, a pillar of our inclusive democracy, a key component of which Republican presidential candidates are now asking us to ignore or change.
In its infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of enslaved people were disqualified from U.S. citizenship. After we fought a civil war, the U.S. ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, which overturned Dred Scott in its opening lines, declaring, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
During the congressional debate over the 14th Amendment, both its supporters and detractors recognized that this birthright citizenship clause would apply to everyone born on U.S. soil, not just the descendants of slaves. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that even after the passage of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act, the U.S.could not deny citizenship to Wong Kim Ark, a California-born son of Chinese immigrants, because the 14th Amendment guaranteed him citizenship.
Yet, anti-immigrant activists and their allies in the GOP are now fighting against this most American of constitutional principles.
In an immigration plan released this week, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for ending birthright citizenship. No matter that he didn't say how he would do that(while most people acknowledge that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the policy, some claim it was never included in the 14th Amendment in the first place). His Republican rivals started jumping to join him. Scott Walker told reporters that he "absolutely" wanted to change the Constitution's definition of citizenship, adding, paradoxically, that "to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country." Ben Carson said it "doesn't make any sense" to allow "anchor babies." Bobby Jindal joined the fray. So did Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul and Rick Santorum had already expressed their support for undoing the citizenship provision, with Paul sponsoring a constitutional amendment to do so and Santorum saying the 14th Amendment doesn't even say what it says.
Jeb Bush has been getting unearned credit for acknowledging that birthright citizenship is a "constitutional right" that we shouldn't "take away" -- just a few days after implying that if he had a "magic wand" to change the Constitution he would use it to do just that. Similarly, John Kasich has renounced his previous support for repealing birthright citizenship, but now says he doesn't want to "dwell on it." Carly Fiorina's and Rick Perry's passionate defense of the 14th Amendment is that it would take too much work to change it. This is what now passes for moderation. What ever happened to defending basic constitutional rights?
The Republican presidential contenders' rush to badmouth a basic constitutional right -- in an apparent attempt to appeal to their supposedly Constitution-loving far-right base -- speaks volumes about what they really mean when they talk about constitutionalism. They use their pocket Constitutions for the parts that come in handy. The rest of it? Not so much.
This post by PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Discussions of Governor Kasich's role in the 2016 election have centered around his strategy of defining himself to voters as an alternative to Jeb Bush: a moderate, compassionate conservative without Bush's last name. This strategy presupposes that both Bush and Kasich are in fact middle-of-the-road Republicans who hold moderate positions that would make them electable next November.
That proposition is false. While Kasich and Bush certainly took a more measured tone in the first Republican debate compared to, say, Donald Trump, their policy positions and records as governor in Ohio and Florida show that they're just as extreme and far-right as the rest of the Republican field.
Few issues demonstrate the extreme agenda of Bush, Kasich, and the Republican Party more than a woman's right to choose. Kasich has directly targeted access to legal abortion in Ohio though enacting medically unnecessary, cumbersome laws that closed abortion clinics. He signed a bill including a policy that restricts rape crisis counselors from providing referrals to abortion services to rape survivors. Jeb Bush calls himself the "most pro-life governor in modern times." As governor, he tried to restrict the ability of a mentally disabled rape victim to have an abortion. The "Scarlet Letter" law enacted during Bush's term as governor required a single mother who did not know the father of her child to pay for a month-long newspaper ad before putting her child up for adoption. The ad had to include personal details about the mother and her sexual history, complete with dates and locations where the child could have been conceived. Bush and Kasich are just as bad as their fellow candidates like Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion bill even though he promised voters in his last campaign that the right to choose is between a woman and her doctor; or Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored a 20-week abortion bill in the Senate.
On Social Security, Kasich and Bush support former President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Had his plan been enacted, the stock market crash of 2008 would have decimated Social Security savings of seniors across the country. That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the Republican field other than, of all people, Donald Trump. He's actually spoken out against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, calling them "not fair" to workers. On immigration, Kasich and Bush have used less offensive language than Donald Trump, but both - and the rest of the leading Republican candidates - oppose President Obama's policies that protect DREAMers and families from deportation. Neither Bush nor Kasich nor any leading Republican candidate supports comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, even though that's a commonsense policy that would enable undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, stay with their families, and contribute to the American economy.
Kasich and Bush have reiterated time and again that their economic experience would make them ideal presidential candidates. The extreme GOP base might like those policies, but the fact is, they've made it more difficult for working class families to get ahead. After accounting for inflation, the average Ohio household earned less in 2013 than it did in 1984. Kasich's 2015 budget cut taxes by only $24 for middle-class Ohioans, raised taxes by $20 for taxpayers in the lowest income bracket, yet included a $10,000 tax cut for the wealthiest Ohioans. Bush keeps trumpeting his tenure as governor, but as the Washington Post reported, "Florida owed a substantial portion of its growth under Bush not to any state policies but to a massive and unsustainable housing bubble -- one that ultimately benefited rich investors at the expense of middle-class families." Bush also provided tax cuts to the wealthiest Floridians while cutting funding for essential programs for senior citizens and children. Kasich and Bush's failed economic policies are par for the course for Republican candidates: Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie have both been hammered for their states' economic woes.
Far-right policy positions defined the gubernatorial terms of Bush and Kasich. Now that they're running for president, we can't let them run from their records. Bush and Kasich's extreme agendas are in line with every single other Republican candidate that was on stage during the first debate.
Randy Borntrager lives in Ohio and is the political director of People For the American Way, D.C.-based progressive advocacy organization. He has previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and the communications director and interim executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party.
Think Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is leaps and bounds worse than the rest of the Republican candidates running for president?
Test your knowledge by taking our quiz! Each of the statements below were made by Donald Trump or one of the other GOP candidates in the 2016 race.
Who Said It?
There’s no denying it: the destruction of our campaign finance laws has created an out of control system that poses a serious threat to our democracy. The announcement that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised over $114 million, along with the fact that the Koch brothers plan to spend almost $900 million, feeds into the fears of many that the U.S. is turning into an oligarchy, where the views of wealthy donors are the only ones that matter. A huge majority of Americans think the campaign finance system needs reform, and this is an issue that presidential candidates can’t ignore.
This week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, an outspoken opponent of big money in politics, pledged to introduce legislation at the start of the next session that would provide public financing for elections. Hillary Clinton has also stated her support for small-donor public financing. A bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) attempted to level the playing field by providing voters with $25 to spend on elections and to match small individual donations to a candidate 6 to 1 with public money, which would turn into a 9 to 1 match for candidates that rejected large donations altogether.
In addition, both Sanders and Clinton have expressed their support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, as has Sen. Lindsey Graham. These two solutions, public financing of elections and an amendment to get big money out of politics, are both highlighted as measures needed to fix the broken campaign finance system in “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Reform Agenda,” released by PFAW and other campaign finance reform proponents. As the agenda makes clear, for lasting change we have to move beyond “individual statements or even individual solutions” toward a comprehensive set of policy solutions.
Three out of four Americans are in support of a constitutional amendment, and over 5 million people have signed a petition in favor of it. Many other political leaders at the state and local level from both major parties want to put an end to the post-Citizens United big donor arms race.
As Sen. Sanders has pointed out:
The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue.
At a recent campaign stop, Scott Walker was greeted by two young people who were very excited to see him – just not in the sense he would have hoped. Two activists from 350 Action tricked Governor Walker into holding up a fake check displaying his reliance on the Koch brothers.
When interviewed by reporters, one of the activists, Elaine Colligan, explained that her inspiration stemmed from Walker’s lack of climate change prevention policies. “Scott Walker is the worst on climate change,” she said, comparing him to the other 2016 presidential candidates. Colligan’s complaints are not unfounded, since being elected as governor of Wisconsin, Walker has demonstrated his preference for the fossil fuel industry over efforts to prevent climate change.
To list only a few of Walker’s policies that have led to his current reputation: he signed the no climate tax pledge, prepared a lawsuit against the federal government because of EPA regulations, proposed to cut $8.1 million from a renewable energy research center, and advocated for increased railways carrying frac sand. It is no surprise Walker is being targeted by environmental advocacy organizations like 350 Action.
At the campaign stop, another attendee joined in, saying: “Scott Walker will do anything to get elected! Because that’s what politicians do!” While this comment is particularly pessimistic, it stems from a frustration many Americans feel with our current campaign system. When a man like Scott Walker, who is receiving millions from undisclosed and unregulated donors, is more influenced by those donors than everyday Americans like Elaine Colligan, something is obviously wrong with the system. But there has been recent action calling for reform of this system, including a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. Candidates need to be responsive to their constituents on issues like climate change, rather than to the wealthy special interests that can afford to pour money into our elections.
On Thursday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing to advise members on what to expect in the first GOP debate tonight. After an introduction from PFAW President Michael Keegan, Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a discussion with leading political strategist and founder of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake and PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager and Senior Research Associate Brian Trashman.
Lake stressed the widening disconnect between GOP candidates and the vast majority of the general electorate. She recommended watching for three main areas of focus during the debate: how the candidates are able, or unable, to articulate an economic message; how the candidates attempt to repair a troubled relationship with female voters; and how many times the candidates go off on tangents that reveal their extreme far-right positions.
As Donald Trump continues to lead the polls, Tashman discussed how the media’s focus on Trump allows his contenders to seem more moderate, when in reality this is the most “extreme candidate selection we have had in a while.” Lake added that the media’s insistence on posing “crazy” questions also bolsters Trump’s poll numbers, as it inhibits other candidates from discussing their economic agenda.
To push back against the extreme rhetoric that has elevated Trump’s popularity, Borntrager outlined a variety of ways in which PFAW and its affiliates are fighting back. Speaking about the importance of a “progressive rapid response mechanism,” Borntrager urged supporters to email PFAW’s political department for ways to get involved in the grassroots effort. He noted that for the upcoming debate, PFAW is organizing a counter-rally in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as live tweeting and fact checking the candidates’ claims throughout. “This grassroots effort is, in a lot of ways, starting today,” Borntrager said.
Call participants shared thoughtful questions, including one regarding the risks associated with the Republican-backed privatization of Medicare and Social Security. Lake responded that these measures are “wildly unpopular” among the majority of Americans. She concluded that Republicans are “living on borrowed time, demographically” because they either attack or ignore discriminatory practices, welfare programs, reproductive health care access, and other issues of pronounced importance to the American people.
Listen to the full briefing here:
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Act, which passed then and has passed since with strong bipartisan support, provided necessary protections from discriminatory voting practices by Southern states aimed at African Americans. That was yesterday. Today's VRA is barely recognizable.
Yesterday, protection was needed against poll taxes (barred in federal elections with the ratification of the 24th Amendment), literacy taxes, and things like “white primaries” in Texas. Today protection is needed against voter identification laws, purging of voting rolls, the disenfranchisement of voting rights for formerly incarcerated persons, big money in politics, and redistricting.
Yesterday, Jim Crow was to have retired in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also signed by President Johnson. Today Jim Crow is “James Crow, PhD,” – CEO of the prison industrial complex, instigator of the war on women and card carrying, dues paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), determined to re-define democracy in this country.
Yesterday, 50 years ago on March 7, 1965, courageous women and men were a part of a nonviolent march attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Five months later the Voting Rights Act was signed.
Today, 50 years later I stand here in Dallas with Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, III, officers, clergy, laity, and Dr. James Perkins, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. at its 54th annual conference, the convention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with great clarity and without doubt that the Voting Rights Act of yesterday is still needed in its fullness today!
Yesterday, on November 22, 1963, here in Dallas at the Dealey Plaza, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as this country’s 36th president. Blood and tears of Kennedy and the nonviolent marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were mingled at the raising of a pen to try to finish what Kennedy started - the righting of a wrong. Today, blood and tears of the Emmanuel Nine were mingled in the lowering of the confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capital.
Yesterday, under the Johnson administration, his “Great Society” vision for America, we got Medicare and Medicaid (also 50 this month), a ban on race discrimination in public facilities, the War on Poverty, and the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Today, we still must march for Medicaid expansion, an end to racial profiling and gender and sexual identity discrimination, for comprehensive immigration reform. And 50 years later we still must fight for the protection of our right to vote.
We are here in Texas on this historic day, the same state that immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder on August 22, 2013, passed one of the country’s most oppressive, restrictive voter identification laws (SB14) at the time and was charged with violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
We are here knowing from the yesterdays it is not a matter of “if” someone will test the voting laws of the land. Today it’s just a matter of “when.” Until we get to that place of protection, of security where rights will not, can no longer be denied, “let us march on,” educate, motivate, advocate, register and yes vote “till victory is won.”
As the leading Republican presidential candidates prepare to take the stage on Thursday for the first official presidential debate, we know that they all share a common goal of promoting an far-right agenda in the White House.
We don’t expect to get much clarity on the Republicans’ extreme positions on Thursday. But if we had the chance to moderate the debate, here’s some of the questions we’d ask each of the candidates: